As an HVAC technician, you will be expected to become proficient with a manner of different tools and pieces of equipment in order to obtain your certification. While some things like screwdrivers and pliers are obviously elementary, you’ll also need to learn more complex and even dangerous pieces of equipment such as acetylene torches.
Useful for a wide array of applications such as brazing copper connections, your acetylene torch is a best friend for HVAC technicians and a necessary piece of equipment for completing many installations and repairs for your customers’ heating and cooling systems.
However, as you may expect, acetylene torches are not a tool to be used lightly. Used carelessly, your handy torch can prove to be extremely dangerous. Painful burns and hazardous explosions can easily occur if you don’t treat your torch with the care and respect it deserves.
Acetylene torch safety is a topic we cover with our students in extreme depth as part of the HVAC training program here at the Training Center of Heating and Air Conditioning in Houston, Texas. However, for incoming students or those interested in pursuing a career as an HVAC technician, coming in with an established mindset of safety and respect for this essential yet dangerous tool is a great way to give yourself an edge.
As you begin to educate yourself on what it takes to be an effective and safe HVAC technician, here are some acetylene torch safety tips you need to know and follow.
Always survey the area
Before you light your torch, it is essential that you check your surroundings and make sure it is a suitable area to do so. Make sure there are no flammable objects and that the area is properly ventilated. In many instances, it is a good idea to have a fire watch with you to have your back in case of trouble, or at the very least a fire extinguisher is present. If anyone in the present area isn’t qualified to do so, make sure they have vacated to a safe distance before beginning.
Always light with an approved striker
There is most certainly a right and wrong way to light your torch. Never use matches or a lighter to do so. These methods will put your hand too close to the flame and you will very likely burn your hands. Not to mention, the design of a common light essentially turns them into little pipe bombs when exposed to flame. Take any lighters off your person before you light your torch as well. When exposed to open flames or extreme heat they can combust.
Protective gear isn’t optional
It isn’t just encouraged to wear protection, it is an absolute must! Personal protective gear such as glasses and gloves are the absolute minimum. Consider the circumstances you are working around. If you grab a red hot, just brazed piece of copper, it will be extremely painful. Imagine unpleasant the feeling of melting skin is, and bad burns on the hands make tomorrow’s jobs much harder. Goggles will help prevent hot liquid silver from making its way into your eyes and causing serious, irreversible damage to your vision.
Follow OSHA rules
OSHA has particular rules that all acetylene torch operators need to adhere too. Such rules include the use of protective caps on torch bottles during transportation, storing oxygen separately from the fuel, storing bottles upright, never opening the fuel gas more than one turn, and if you are using a wrench-type valve, the wrench must stay in place for fast shut off if needed.
Oxygen is extremely flammable
Oxygen is the most dangerous of the gasses in the torch set. When fire is exposed to pure oxygen it accelerates at an amazing rate and the risk of an explosion is greatly increased. People often think oxygen and air are the same thing, which leads to a misunderstanding of the explosive relationship between fire and oxygen. However, oxygen and air is not the same thing. Air is only a little over 21% oxygen, but the oxygen in your torch is almost 100% pure oxygen.
Never use without approved flame arrestors and valves
Flame arrestors, check valves, and flashback arrestors are safety measures that help keep your acetylene torch’s flame under control. Using these safety measures greatly reduces any chance of fire traveling back into the hoses and regulators and resulting in exposure to large quantities of oxygen.
Acetylene torch safety and care is so important for the well-being and effectiveness of an HVAC technician, which is why safety is a topic we cover in depth in our program. Learn more about our upcoming schedule of classes here.